How to Use Stories to Inspire Action...When All You Want to Do Is Procrastinate


January 7th, 2016

Another morning…another day of me staring blankly at the computer screen...

I need to get the manuscript for The Will of Heroes ready for the copyeditor. All of the Kickstarter backers are counting on me to publish this book with professional-quality. So I need to get this done right. 

But the bills keep piling up, and this process is longer and more expensive than I expected.

Thankfully, I moved to Tampa Bay, so I would have more time, more focus, and fewer distractions to help me complete the book with excellence. But even without any distractions in my environment, I feel like I just can’t handle the work I have to do today. 

I don’t want to confront how big the project is.

I don’t want to confront the fact that whatever I put out there will be harshly criticized. 

I don’t want to face the possibility that the people who believed in me and backed the project may be disappointed—and feel like their support of my work was not worth it.

This is all too much to handle for me right now…Maybe I need to take a break from this project for the day. I’ll probably feel better tomorrow anyway…

Finding INSPIRATION When I Needed it most

Wait, what am I saying?

Think about when J.K. Rowling was writing her first Harry Potter book.

Her bills were piling up much worse than mine.

She had a baby girl to take care one depends on me.

She had to face cold rainy winters in Edinburgh...meanwhile, it’s January and here and it's nice enough outside to go to the beach.

She was in a constant battle with depression...and I'm only battling with procrastination.

And she had no guarantee that anyone would even read her book, let alone have thousands of dollars in pre-orders for it.

Despite all of this, somehow she managed to spend 5 years writing consistently. 

If she could handle all of that, I can handle 4 hours of editing my manuscript like I planned. Let's do this... [1]

The Power of Stories to Inspire Action

The passage above is taken from my morning journal roughly 2 months before the release of The Will of Heroes (keeping a morning journal is a creativity strategy that helps you unload all of your wandering thoughts before getting to work. For any creatives out there, I highly recommend it.)

I wanted to share this one with you to show you my hard thought process as I worked through my desire to procrastinate. I felt that I couldn't bring myself to keep up my writing schedule, but J.K. Rowling's story inspired me to take action. 

We all have these down days. 

It doesn’t matter if your goal is writing, selling, or making it to the gym, you have had (and will continue to have) days like this from time to time. And on these days, there's nothing your primitive brain wants to do more than to put your work off until tomorrow. [2]

This temptation to procrastinate is human. A whopping 95% of people admit to procrastinating at least some of the time—and the other 5% are kidding themselves. Everyone does it, but just because procrastination is natural, doesn't mean it's harmless. [3]

In fact, procrastination is the primary reason why roughly 9 out of 10 people will fail to reach their long-term goals9 out of 10! [4]

I don’t know how many days exactly I’ve woken up tempted to join those 9 people as I stare blankly at the computer screen. But I do know that every day I have felt this way in recent memory, I have turned to the story of J.K. Rowling for inspiration. 

I have thought about the hardships she faced...

The obstacles she overcame...

And, most importantly, the greatness she proved was possible.

Her story has always been enough to inspire me to take action—even on the hardest days. 


If you’ve been following my work for a while, you know that I love to tell stories about how people used their willpower to achieve greatness (you may even be sick of hearing about J.K. Rowling at this point...)

However, I’ve never explained how to apply stories to your daily challenges. Nor have I explained the science behind why they can be powerful motivators when you face those inevitable days of demotivation on the journey to your goals.

So let's break down the proven reasons why J.K. Rowling's story inspired me to take action—even when all I wanted to do is procrastinate. And how you can find that same drive for work through your inspirational stories. 


As I mentioned in my journal entry, my situation in January wasn’t nearly as hard as J.K. Rowling’s was when she was writing her first book.

I’m not saying that my situation was better, necessarily. I understand why some of you might find my lifestyle lonely and boring, and would prefer her life as a parent. But, if nothing else, my situation while writing was certainly easier to handle.

Despite this, my initial thoughts focused on feeling sorry for myself.

I’m exhausted…

I’m overwhelmed…

I don’t know if I can take it today...

But when I mentally rehearsed the situation that Rowling was in at my age, I shifted my perspective (also referred to as the frame of reference). When I did that, I clearly saw that my daily struggle wasn’t nearly as hard as what she went through.

And if she could find the time to write in addition to being a single mother; then I knew I could locate the time to write in an environment that I had intentionally set up to be free of distractions.

After shifting my perspective in this way, the challenge didn’t seem so overwhelming, and my daily writing goal seemed much more achievable.

This simple change gave me just enough willpower to get started writing. After which, I became immersed in the task, achieved small wins, and hit my daily goal. 

Your perspective on your situation, your work, or yourself, has an enormous impact on your willpower.

And a story is one of the best ways to shift this perspective. When you are engaged in a story, you put yourself in the character's shoes. You visualize other people's situations and gain a perspective outside of yourself. 

There’s a reason why religious books use stories. Reading about the generosity and kindness of a spiritual leader will shift your perspective and give you more willpower to be selfless as well.

This same principle can be applied to a story about someone in your life, learning the path someone took from rags-to-riches, or even watching an inspirational movie. As the story plays out, your brain will visualize you in their shoes and shift your perspective. [5]


Another benefit to thinking about J.K. Rowling’s story is that it also helped me become grateful for all the advantages I had ignored in my self-pity. 

I have proven demand for my book!

I have an amazing audience that supports my work!

I can even play beach volleyball in January! 

These are all things I knew intellectually, but it wasn’t until I thought of Rowling’s story that I truly appreciated them. And that gratitude also increased my willpower.

As fellow writer Ben Austin wrote about in this guest post, simply being grateful benefits your willpower in big ways.


The RAS (reticular activating system) is a bundle of nerves that is attached to your brainstem and acts as a filter for everything going in and out of your brain.

When you focus your attention on the positive things in your life, your brain will filter out the bad and prevent your subconscious from overreacting to harmless “threats.” This allows you to create more willpower, retain your existing willpower stores, and focus on the tasks that matter. [6]


The Prefrontal Cortex (PFC) is the part of your brain associated with willpower and problem solving. In other words, gratitude makes you tougher and more resilient.

Resilient people activate their PFC and dominate. Resistant people enable their fight-or-flight nervous system and get pushed around by life. [7] 


According to psychologist Carl Rogers, gratitude expands your Self-Concept, which consists of 3 things:

1.    Self-image, or how you see yourself.

2.   Self-esteem, or how much you value yourself.

3.   Ideal self, or how you wish you could be.

When your self-concept expands, all areas of your life benefit. A gratitude practice allows you to have more confidence, value your achievements, and work towards your goals. [8]

Expanding your self-concept allows you to see the real value you bring in this world. It’s a powerful feeling and allows you to increase your impact and do the work that matters.

If you read an inspiring story about someone with fewer resources than you, yet was still able to achieve an admirable goal, it will make you grateful for the resources or advantages you do have. And it will give you more confidence that you can reach your goals too.


This chapter of J.K. Rowling's story inspires me the most. 

Not only did she face a daily struggle to write Harry Potter, but she endured that battle for roughly 1,825 days!  From her initial idea of a boy going to a school for witchcraft and wizardry to the book's publication–she wrote, she edited, she re-wrote, and she never gave up.

Think about how many days she must have woken up with the same feelings of exhaustion and demotivation that I started this article with–and she had the additional responsibility of being a single mother!

Without any promises of publication, without any outside validation that the book would be a success, and with the tremendous responsibility to provide a good life for her daughter, Rowling must have thought about giving up hundreds of times. 

And imagine if she did!

Not only did her books bring happiness and imagination to people all over the world, but they also inspired children like me to learn the wonder that is found in books. She made reading fun for kids at a time when many were turning to video games instead.

I cannot image what the world would look like today if instead, she made the rational, practical decision to quit. If she did, I doubt I would have become a writer. But even more inspiring to me is wondering...

How many others have faced similar struggles to Rowling, but quit before they created their master work?

We will never know for sure, but the number is certainly much higher than those who followed Rowling's path and refused to give up. 

My own journey of sharing the science of willpower with the world has not been easy. It's been a bumpy road, full of many days where I've been tempted to quit. But Rowling’s story has given me endless inspiration to ignore that temptation, and make progress every single day.


Greatness doesn’t come from innate gifts, a brilliant idea, or even from a story itself. It comes from making a choice to embark on the journey and making progress every single day until you reach the destination.

Unfortunately, our nature is to ignore the value of consistent progress. Instead, we choose to procrastinate when we hit the inevitable days of exhaustion and demotivation along the way.

Taken alone, skipping one day won't do much harm. But procrastinating this one day sets the precedent to procrastinate again...and again. 

When I face these days, I turn to the story of J.K. Rowling. Thinking about her perseverance through five long years of struggle helps me gain perspective. It helps me become grateful for what I have, and it reminds me to never give up.

The world is a better place because J.K. Rowling believed the story of Harry Potter was too important to give up on. Whatever goal brings out that same passion in you, begin your journey to reach it.

And when you hit those inevitably hard days along the way, find a story that will inspire you to fight through them.